RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
John Lennon was an iconic songwriter and musician throughout multiple phases of his career, and his guitar playing, while sometimes underrated by critics, was a key part of that.
What strings did John Lennon use during his long career?
Lennon used Pyramid flatwound strings during the Beatles’ early years, switching to Gibson Sonomatic roundwound strings and later RotoSound roundwound strings in the mid 1960s. Throughout most of his time in the Beatles he played heavy or medium gauge strings, but switched in the late 1960s as lighter gauge strings became more widely available.
Let’s look at Lennon’s choice of strings and how that affected his tone throughout his career.
What Kind Of Electric Guitar Strings Did John Lennon Use?
One of Lennon’s first electric guitars was a Hofner Club 40, later loaned to Paul McCartney, and like most Hofner guitars at the time, it was likely strung with flatwound strings.
In fact, most electric guitars came from the factory with flatwound strings until the mid 1960s, and in many places, string selection was very limited, with flatwound strings being all that was available.
That helped contribute to some of the sound on the earliest Beatles songs, especially when Lennon used one of his Rickenbaker guitars. The flatwound strings made the 12-strings in particular, including the custom 325 the company sent Lennon after his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, have a smooth, even sound, but most of the 12-string work was George Harrison’s.
Heavy gauge roundwound strings were also key to the sound Lennon got from his standard 325. That guitar has a very short scale at just 20 inches, making light gauge strings sound floppy because of the lower tension.
Starting in the mid 1960s, around the time Lennon and Harrison acquired their Epiphone Casinos, more and more electric guitars started to ship with roundwound strings, and more string options became available as more and more people took up guitar.
This video looks at the history of the Casino.
Throughout the rest of his career, Lennon would play dozens of guitars, from a Guild Starfire XII to a Les Paul Jr. he had customized with a Charlie Christian pickup in the neck position.
As far as anyone has been able to tell, those guitars were pretty much all strung with roundwound strings. Harrison played both Gibson Sonomatic strings and RotoSound strings while with the Beatles and it appears Lennon did, as well.
What Gauge Strings Did John Lennon Use?
As it was with the question of flatwound vs. roundwound strings, when it comes to string gauge, Lennon’s first strings were dictated by what came on the guitar and what was available in music shops as opposed to what he would have preferred.
And while flatwound strings were much more common than roundwound strings, both kinds of strings were mostly available in one gauge: heavy.
The Fender Esquire and Telecaster both came with roundwound strings from the factory, for example, even in the early 1950s. But those strings had a high E string that was .013” — quite hefty by today’s standards, especially on a solid body electric guitar.
That’s considered Stevie Ray Vaughan territory today, but was what people got when they bought a new guitar in the 1950s and 1960s.
No wonder players like B.B. King told stories about buying a set of banjo strings and using the thinnest to replace the high E string and shifting the other five strings over one position.
That made bending much easier.
The earliest strings on Lennon’s electric guitars were Pyramid flatwound strings with a high E string that was .012”. Even when he switched to the Casino and thus roundwound strings, they were likely around the same gauge.
As lighter gauge strings became available and Lennon’s guitar playing became more adventurous, he switched to lighter gauges.
Gibson eventually issued John Lennon’s Signature strings for both electric and acoustic guitars. They were available in multiple gauges, going as light as .009” for the high E string.
What Kind Of Acoustic Guitar Strings Did John Lennon Use?
Many of Lennon’s most iconic instruments were acoustic guitars, including the very first guitar he played, bought for him by an aunt with the advice that he’d never earn a living playing it.
That guitar, a Gallotone Champion, probably came with strings as heavy as .013” for the high E string, fairly common for the 1950s.
Like most acoustics, it likely came with roundwound strings. Flatwound strings became more common when recordings, as well as electric guitars and amplifiers, made the finger noise from roundwound strings more apparent and some players wanted to eliminate what they saw as extraneous noise from their playing.
In fact, during the 1960s, Pyramid, the company that made the flatwound strings likely played by the Beatles, even advertised the way flatwound strings were quieter.
Lennon’s favorite guitar was an acoustic: a Gibson J-160E, which is a dreadnought size acoustic (Jumbo in Gibson parlance) with a P-90 pickup just below the fret board. In fact, Lennon had two of them.
In 1962, Lennon and Harrison got matching sunburst J-160E guitars after they got their record deal. The pair wanted more professional instruments, and both used them extensively.
In 1963 Lennon’s J-160E was either lost or stolen after a Holiday concert. It would eventually turn up at a music store where it was bought by someone who didn’t know the instrument’s history. Eventually, he found out what he had and the guitar was auctioned for $2.4 million.
But Lennon never found out his original guitar’s fate. He replaced it with a 1964 model, also in sunburst.
A few years later, this guitar would get the famous blue and purple paint job featured on the iconic “All You Need Is Love” satellite broadcast. But not long after, Lennon would strip off the finish entirely in order to allow the wood to “breathe”.
Like most acoustics of that era, the instrument likely came from the factory with strings that had a high E of .012”. In addition to the electric strings mentioned above, Gibson also issued John Lennon Signature acoustic guitar strings, with one set running .012”, .016”, .024” (wound), .034”, .041”, and .052” from high E to low E.
Like many artists, especially the rest of the Beatles, Lennon started playing quite young and didn’t know much about gear like guitar strings at first.
That, coupled with fewer options on the market at the time, meant that Lennon mostly played what was available, at least early in his career.
As I noted above, that meant Pyramid flatwound strings and then Gibson Sonomatic strings, often in quite heavy gauges.
But as Lennon’s playing progressed, and as more options became available, he expanded what he used, eventually playing much lighter, roundwound strings, which allowed him to bend notes more expressively.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.